In this blog entry I try to examine some of the motivation behind “The Leak”. It’s just a thought experiment and claims no validity.
Recently, a manifesto called Conspiracy as Governance appeared in the internet’s archives. New York Times and other media ascribed the paper to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, published in his blog iq.org in 2006. We assume that this information is correct. In this essay, Assange referred to political systems as conspiracies. In his eyes, the anaolgy is justified because every governance regime restricts knowledge (or information) to certain members of the very same regime. And so do conspiracies.
A part of the analogy can be considered as fact, since all institutions are constituted by certain rules of communication that restrict information flows in some circumstances and enable them in others. Adherence to this information regulation reproduces the governance regime, Assange continues. Without explicitly mentioning, one can see Luhmann’s (1995) view of autopoietic (e.g., closed and self reproducing) systems, constituted by communication. Also Foucault’s (1980) assumption of ontological entity between knowledge and power can be found in Assanges statements: people execute power by setting fields of knowledge – by deciding what information is right and which is wrong, who’s to generate and bear “true” knowledge and who’s not.
It is this power that Assange promises to undermine – and I try to illustrate how.
In “Conspiracy as Governance”, Assange uses network terminology (nodes, ties, weight) to describe actors and secret communication within a conspiracy. To destroy any network, he continues, one can either eliminate nodes (here: actors), or one can weaken the ties between nodes (here: classified information flows between the actors). “Traditional” revolutionary movements as well as public authorities try to eliminate – sometimes in the very sense of that word – key actors from a specific target network. Wikileaks tries another way. It attempts to destroy the network by weakening the ties, cutting of classified information flows by leaking restricted information. Parts of the network collapse, thus the knowledge field and its powers diminish. Similar things happen in surveillance – only without broadcasting the information all over the internet.
For illustration purpose, I’ve chosen a random network and modeled both described effects. Let’s assume the first graphic is the basic “conspiracy” or “regime” before the “attack”. In the second graphic, most central actors (nodes with highest closeness) were eliminated. Isolated actors, whose only connection to the conspiracy were through central actors, were also removed. One can see that the same network is looking “less dense” – the conspiracy regime is weakened. The third graphic shows the “Wiki-way”: the effect when secret information is leaked. Weak ties with little (formerly) undisclosed information flows are deleted. Isolates, e.g. members that participated only in few secret communications, were also removed. In this example, the network is barely recognizable any more. Finally, in Graphic 4, formerly deleted isolates are visible again.
This “network” looks like self determination for many actors. It looks like anarchy as organizing mechanism.
Don’t you think?
But it’s just an illustration.
- Foucault, M. (1980): Power/Knowledge. Selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon.
- Luhmann, N. (1995): Social Systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press.